As Shelton Tucker stood in the biting cold on the steps of the New Haven courthouse Wednesday, he said he was grappling with whether it was worth risking the next eight years of his life just to hear a jury say “not guilty.”
Tucker, 29, and a handful of supporters, including several Yale students, protested Wednesday morning against mandatory minimum prison sentences and a justice system they said was stacked against black defendants like Tucker. The protest comes on the eve of his trial for drug possession with intent to sell.
The crime carries a mandatory sentence of eight years in prison, Tucker said. However, he said prosecutor Jack Doyle has offered him a five-year suspended sentence and three years of probation, meaning Tucker would not serve any prison time unless he committed a crime while on probation.
“The mandatory minimum forces people to plead guilty,” said Barbara Fair, Tucker’s mother. “And that’s only because people know they’re not going to get a fair trial in this courthouse.”
Fair, 55, who organized the protest, said she had been active in exposing discrimination in the criminal justice system for the last six years. Sally Joughin, who attended the protest, said some thought Tucker was targeted for arrest because of his mother’s activism.
Tucker said he was arrested June 6 by police, who claimed he had dropped bags of marijuana on the ground. When they searched him, he said, police claimed that they found marijuana in his pocket as well. Tucker said he was not carrying enough drugs to be convicted of possession with intent to sell but did not deny that the marijuana police said they found in his pocket was his.
“Honestly speaking, I don’t know,” he said.
Tucker criticized his court-appointed attorney, Michael Richards, for not doing enough to prove his innocence. He also said Doyle has been too aggressive in pursuing the case.
“It seems like the prosecutors only look for convictions,” Tucker said. “They don’t look for the truth in the case.”
Doyle and Richards could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Anita Seth GRD ’05, former chair of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, was one of several students who held up signs at the rally.
“Shelton’s a friend of mine and I’m really worried about the way the system works,” Seth said. “There’s no reason why [a drug arrest] needs to be handled in the criminal system at all in most cases.”
As of Wednesday morning, Tucker said he had not made a decision about accepting the plea bargain.
“It’ll probably be an 11th-hour decision at this point,” Tucker said.